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Theatre Review

Lady Beverly Cohn

Dazzling. Remarkable. Superb. Thrilling. Stunning. Spectacular. Glorious. Sparkling. Sensational. Glittering. Mesmerizing. Astonishing. Brilliant. Vibrant. Enthralling. Enchanting. Riveting. Fascinating. Innovative.

With Colin Firth onscreen, Cheyenne Wells as Juliet and Brian McKnight, Jr. as Peter, their live counterparts.
 Photo by Rob Latour.

If there is such a thing as sheer perfection in a theatrical production, then LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE is sheer perfection and my list of adjectives basically says it all. Created by Shane Scheel and Anderson Davis, for The Record Live, this enchanting production first appeared at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in 2018 and 2019 in an historical record-breaking run where almost 30,000 theatre lovers witnessed this beguiling production which morphs the actual film into a state-of-the-art video by Aaron Rhyne. Under the razor-sharp direction of Anderson Davis, the talented, gifted ensemble of actors re-enact the action taking place onscreen in memorable scenes with Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman, Andrew Lincoln, Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy. Under the musical supervision and arrangements by Jesse Vargas, and AnnMarie Milazzo’s vocal design, the stage actors perform some of the memorable musical moments from the film including, “Christmas is All Around,” “Trouble with Love,” “Puppy Love,” “Bye Bye Baby,” “White Christmas,” “Rose,” and Joni Mitchell’s memorable hit single “Both Sides Now,” which was beautifully sung in four-part harmony.

R-L:  Anthony Fedorov as Daniel and Conor Jack Kowalski as his son Sam.  Photo by Rob Latour.

Having not seen the original run of LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE, and not knowing very much about it, from the moment I entered the theatre and saw the fabulous three tier set design by Matthew Steinbrenner, housing the band,
stage left and stage right on the upper tier, I broke out in a big smile and whispered to my friend that we were in for a fabulous evening. Making creative use of the theatre, director Davis used the aisles as runways for the ensemble to make their entrances and under the musical staging by Sumie Maeda made their way to the stage, singing the Beatles iconic hit “All You Need Is Love.” This opening set the tone for the evening which was devoted to the agony and ecstasy of the state of being in love and the heartbreak sometimes inherent in that divine emotion. Seeing some of the memorable cinematic scenes, simultaneously replicated onstage, will almost make you want to cheer and include, Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister declaring his love for Martine McCutcheon’s Natalie; Liam Neeson as Daniel encouraging his young smitten son Sam (Conor Jack Kowalski) to express his love; Bill Nighy as the aging rock-and- roller Billy Mack with Joe, his devoted manager, played by Gregor Fisher. There is that emotionally tearing scene when Emma Thompson’s Karen discovers her husband’s infidelity, played by the inimitable late Alan Rickman. Then there’s Colin Firth as the writer Jamie declaring his love in Greek to his secretary played by Sienna Guillory; the adorable Colin, played in the film by Kris Marshall who is off to America in search of sex, and porno actor John, played by Martin Freeman and his simulating sex partner Judy, played by Joanna Page. Other scenes replicated simultaneously onstage include, Keira Knightley as Juliet in the scene with Mark, played by Andrew Lincoln. The incredibly talented principal cast, backed by an equally talented ensemble of singers and dancers, includes Aaron Lazar, Brian McKnight Jr., Anthony Fedorov, Michael Thomas Grant, Nina Nelson, and Cheyenne Wells.

Anthony Fedorov as Daniel in LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE on stage at the Wallis Center for the Performing Arts through Friday, December 31st.    Photo by Rob Latour.

Adding to the outstanding production values is Ben Soldate’s sound design, Michael Berger’s lighting design, a kaleidoscope of vibrant, changing colors and, of course, Steve Mazurk’s 21-flavors of colorful costumes, all coalescing
into a perfect antidote to the COVID stress of the last almost two years and launches the Holiday Season in a unforgettable, memorable, immersive, multi-media theatrical extravaganza.

Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. 
Beverly Hills, CA 90210 
Tuesdays – Friday: 7:30 pm
Saturday: 2:00 pm & 7:30 pm
Sunday: 2:00 pm & 7:00 pm
(Wednesday, Dec. 22 & 29: 2:00 & 7:30)
Closing: Friday, December 31, 2020

Tickets: $39-$125
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes – 15-minute intermission
Purchase tickets: Ti*****@Th*******.org
Box Office: 310.746.4000

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